Monday, June 2, 2008

The Universal Studios Fire Hard To Put Out Because Of Low Water Pressure

Firefighters patrolled fire-damaged Universal Studios early Monday for flare-ups while authorities considered whether the blaze that gutted some of Hollywood's most famous backdrops was made worse by low water pressure. At one point, Sunday's fire was two city blocks wide, and low water pressure forced firefighters to get reserves from lakes and ponds on the 400-acre property. The blaze was contained to the back lot, but burned for more than 12 hours before the final flames were extinguished.

"The water pressure situation was a challenge," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said. "This fire moved extremely fast." County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said authorities would investigate the water problems to see whether they reflect a larger shortfall in the area. "There's no question that there was a lack of adequate water pressure at least in the perception of a lot of firefighters," he said. "We're going to find out what the problem was."

Universal Studios is a theme park and its back lot is a working studio, complete with streetscapes and soundstages. The fire, which broke out around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, destroyed the courthouse square from Back to the Future. The cause of the fire is under investigation. Damage estimates were not available, but costs are expected to move into the millions. The park was to reopen Monday.

It was the second fire at the historic site in two decades, leveling facades, hollowing out buildings and creating the kind of catastrophe filmmakers relish re-creating. This time around, thousands of videos chronicling Universal's movie and TV shows were destroyed in the blaze. But Universal officials said that they were thankful no visitors were seriously injured — though several firefighters suffered minor injuries — and that the damaged footage can be replaced. "We have duplicates of everything," said NBC Universal President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer. "Nothing is lost forever."

Two mock New York and New England streets used both for movies such as Bruce Almighty, Spider-Man 2 and Transformers and as tourist displays were a total loss, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs said. The city streetscape has recently served as a backdrop in television shows like Monk, Crossing Jordan and House, said NBC Universal spokeswoman Cindy Gardner.

Meyer estimated there were 40,000 to 50,000 videos and reels in a video vault that burned but said duplicates were stored in a different location. Firefighters managed to recover hundreds of titles. The videos included every film that Universal has produced and footage from television series including Miami Vice and I Love Lucy.

Hundreds of visitors who waited for hours outside the park gates were turned away Sunday after officials decided not to open the area. On a typical weekend day, about 25,000 people visit Universal Studios. An adjacent shopping promenade also was closed. The MTV Movie Awards, broadcasting live Sunday night from the nearby Gibson Amphitheater, went on as planned.


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